Thirteen years people. Thirteen damn years. Close to half of my life. That’s a long wait for a train that don’t come. However, this train did come, and I jumped on board as soon as I could.
There are Tool fans and there are not Tool fans. Tool fans won’t care what I write here because they’ve already listened to the album on repeat at least ten times and have formed their own opinions. However, some not-so Tool fans might appreciate some information and a poorly written analysis of what is one of the biggest releases of the decade.
The name of the album and the title track is Fear Inoculum. Taken literally [by me] to mean being inoculated against the fear that is to come, which is right on the money, and is addressed in the title track of the same name, as Maynard weaves his allegorical elegy. It’s a metaphor that delivers a broader message about real world issues and events.
Fear Inoculum speaks of immunity, exhaling contagions and being watchful of venom in mania – and that is just the first verse. This song was the single released a month earlier and it set the metal world on fire. It is the first studio release from Tool in over 13 years. How could it hold up to what, in my opinion, was one of the greatest albums our ears have heard in 10,000 Days (the previous record from Tool, released in 2006). An album that helped plucky little Schnitzski through the hard times of high school.
This song constructs a soundscape that draws you in with classic Tool elements. It has haunting vocals from Maynard with simplistic power riffs from Adam Jones and just the tightest bass work from Justin Chancellor. It keeps a steady pace with work from Danny Carey on drums that makes you think the man has six legs. Track one Fear Inoculum starts a journey… A changing journey, with progression and growth. No Hobbits here. At over 10 minutes – this song feels like three separate songs intricately connected.
This rolls us into the soft and intriguing Pneuma (one of the best on the album). The literal translation for ‘pneuma’ is ‘for breath’ in ancient Greek – but is often given religious context to mean spirit or soul. This is a song for Tool fans, and this is a song for non fans to grasp what Tool is. At about 3 minutes 20 seconds it kicks into the riff and you are right at home and reminiscent of 10,000 Days. However, this album appears to focus more on the guitar work with some roaring solos and more simplistic, less lyrically heavy work from Maynard. The end of Pneuma lets you experience what Tool is – properly.
“Weapon out and Belly in” – track three Invincible. As noted, the guitar is a more central part to the entire album, and the million-legged drumming. It has less scream from Maynard and more considered vocal work – it tells the story of a warrior struggling to remain relevant and consequential but also desperate to have people know he exists. The armour is wearing thin. This song weighs in at a hefty 12 minutes and 44 seconds – but fucking drops in with proper tool style at 10.53 – after a stint of almost a continuation of Jambi, from 10,000 Days.
Tracks five and six – Descending and Culling Voices are much in the same vein. The band and Adam jones shift away from the intricate single string pluck play to more soaring and drawing riffs, whilst still being powerful and weirdly still Tool.
The next track is 7empest. At 1 minute 20 the song drops in with a power riff, double kick and a melodic chant – “Here we go again”. This is a song rooted deeply in classic Tool and takes you back instantly to the 90’s. Tempest means violence, disturbance – linked to a violent storm. “The calm before the torrent comes, the calm before the tempest comes to reign all over”. It’s cleverly littered with double entendres and image provoking lyrics and interspersed between roaring guitar breaks. The tempest must be just that. And it is a banger of a song.
On the digital release of the album, you have some placeholder songs (tracks 3, 5 and 10) that make for almost an intermission / outro between sections of the story – mostly instrumental empty music. You’ll find this on a few progressive rock albums here and there. But the physical album release is just choon choon choon.
This is musicianship at the top of its game. This is a band that defines so much about what a rock band is sonically. The music and lyrics spawn from an emotional place. I’d love to be a fly on the wall at a Tool jam session when they are writing would be something special.
This album satiates the Tool fan and gives them what they want and need. It might not bring new fans to the table as such – but with the release of their back catalogue on streaming services, that will just happen organically as the algorithms work their magic and Tool ROCKS up in a randomised playlist.
I won’t speak on behalf of all Tool fans, but as a keen one here, this album is what I need. It’s exciting to see it knock pop superstars off the billboards 200 top spot. It is exciting to be able to vote for a Tool song in the Hottest 100. I’m excited I’ve been able to review a recent Tool album, and it is just so great that I can stream all the older Tool I want now as well.
The hype over the past 13 years was insurmountable, but Tool have returned to form and delivered the album the fans need.